West retains control of Zaire
By Dara Mac Neil
Right up to the last, President Mobutu Sese Seko maintained the
fiction that he was in control. On Wednesday he left Zaire to
attend a supposed summit in Gabon. The summit, remarkably,
coincided with a rebel ultimatum stating that he had three days
to depart, or be ``chased from power.''
It is unlikely he will return. It was his opportunity to escape
with at least a fraction of his pride intact - not to mention a
good portion of his huge, multi-billion dollar fortune. He will
probably end his days - he has terminal cancer - in his favourite
pink and white marble chateau on the exclusive French Riviera.
Mobutu's departure was occasioned by two principal factors.
Firstly, his wholly corrupt regime proved incapable of fielding
an army with the ability to do anything but retreat. Secondly,
his chief sponsor in the West - the United States - saw the
writing on the wall and abandoned their protégé of over 20 years.
Initially, the US had expressed hostility to the rebels of the
Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire
However, as the regime collapsed from within the US switched
strategy. It was the US, and not Mobutu, that decided his
regime's days were numbered.
Suddenly, they were reinvented in the guise of peacemakers: their
specially dispatched envoy - Bill Richardson - anxious to achieve
a smooth handover of power. Preparing a ``soft landing'' for Mr
Kabila's ADFL forces was how Mr Richardson described it. He
expressed an anxiety to avoid bloodshed.
Their actions in Zaire mirror past performances in Haiti, the
Philippines and even South Africa. In each case, the US showed no
obvious concern for bloodshed, backing those brutal regimes until
it was proven they could rule no more. So they switched sides and
presented themselves as the agents of radical, democratic
Were Zaire a small, impoverished and strategically insignificant
country such US concern, let alone involvement, would not have
been forthcoming. But as their 20 year backing for Mobutu shows,
the US considers Zaire a country worth maintaining influence
(control) over. In African terms, Zaire's sheer size makes it an
invaluable strategic catch. Equally, the country's almost
legendary reserves of precious stones and copper make its
`acquisition' significant. For the 22 years that Mobutu ruled
Zaire, Western firms were allowed a free run in exploiting the
country's natural reserves. Thus, substantial investments risked
being lost had the US administration not intervened to persuade
Mobutu to exit power and `soften the rebels' landing' in
On the face of it, the struggle for Zaire may be about toppling a
corrupt and brutal regime. But behind the scenes many are working
to ensure it is about maintaining influence, power and
investment. Yet, despite these facts, it is remarkable that
whenever conflict or strife erupt in Africa, the first reaction
of those who should know better - including some in aid agencies
- is to call for Western `intervention.' As if there wasn't
enough of that already.
Some years ago, journalist John Pilger was asked if this selfsame
Western intervention might not be what was needed to help the
people of East Timor free themselves of Indonesian occupation.
Recalling that it was the West who financed, approved, supported
and armed the Indonesian occupation, Pilger pointed out that it
was Western intervention that had created the problem in the
first place. And helps maintain it to this day.